Says "[W]e should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time"
Washington, DC: Consuming cannabis is less harmful to the individual than is drinking alcohol, President Barack Obama acknowledged this week in an interview with The New Yorker.
Responding to questions regarding the public’s growing support in favor of legalizing the plant, the President stated: "As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice. … I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol."
When asked whether he believes cannabis to be less of a threat to public health than booze, the President replied affirmatively, stating that the plant poses fewer harms "in terms of its impact on the individual consumer." However, he added: "It’s not something I encourage. … I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy."
According to a 2009 review published in the British Columbia Mental Health and Addictions Journal, the health-related costs per user are eight times higher for drinkers of alcoholic beverages than they are for those who use cannabis, and are more than 40 times higher for tobacco smokers.
The President also acknowledged that African Americans and Latinos comprise a disproportionate number of marijuana arrests compared to Caucasians despite engaging in similar rates of cannabis consumption. "Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do," he said. "And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties."
According to a June 2013 ACLU study, African Americans nationwide are approximately four times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.
Finally, the President acknowledged the significance of recently imposed changes in Colorado and Washington state laws allowing for the regulation of cannabis. Though he described the ongoing implementation of the new laws as a "challenge," he added: "[I]t’s important for [these state reforms] to go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished. … [W]e should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time."
In September, Deputy Attorney General James Cole testified to members of the United States Senate that the Obama administration "will not … seek to preempt state ballot initiatives" regulating the plant’s production and retail sale unless such activities specifically undermine eight explicit federal law enforcement priorities.
NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano suggests this new position by the President is significant. He said: "While it is ultimately the responsibility of Congress to address America’s longstanding and failed drug policies, the President can use the bully pulpit to set the tone and move the conversation in the proper direction. Until recently, he has largely failed to do so. But his recent public statements regarding the relative safety of cannabis compared to alcohol and his acknowledgement that criminalization disproportionately impacts minorities and the poor may indicate that the President and his Party are finally willing to utilize their public platform and political capital to fight for actual changes in law, rather than simply acknowledge changes in attitude."
Under federal law, marijuana is presently classified to be equally as dangerous as heroin.
For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, or Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director, at (202) 483-5500.